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SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 104-94 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Quin Snyder and Jazz players are so frustrated
The Jazz knew that this was a game the team should win: after losing three straight in a tough stretch against Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the Jazz played the second-worst Western Conference team, at home, after a day off. This is a game the Jazz should win, and relatively easily.
Instead, the Jazz played poorly all night, which meant that the score was only tied at 89-89 with five minutes left to play. The game looked ripe for the taking, but instead, absolutely nothing the Jazz tried worked. To quote Quin Snyder,
"We have multiple matchup situations. We've given the ball to multiple guys. We've given it to Gordon (Hayward), we've given it to Alec (Burks), we've given it to Rodney (Hood), we've given it to Trey Burke, we've put Fav (Derrick Favors) in pick and roll, we've put Book (Trevor Booker) in pick and roll, and our guys have got to be able to handle physicality down the stretch, make plays for one another, and handle toughness."
Indeed, all of those players save Hood had an opportunity to score in that last 5 minute stretch, and all of those players missed at least one opportunity.
The result was a really introspective and quiet locker room. The previous three losses all made some degree of sense to the Jazz's self-assessment: they're good, but don't have the talents of Westbrook, Durant and the Thunder, nor the championship-level system of the Spurs. But losing against the Pelicans changes things.
2. Jazz can't get the ball to Favors down the stretch
After scoring a career-high 16 points in the 3rd quarter, Favors took just one shot in the 4th quarter in seven minutes and 18 seconds of play. Snyder was asked if he felt the Jazz were too perimeter-oriented during the fourth quarter.
"I don't, actually. Derrick also had assists, and he was getting the ball and making plays. We threw it to him down low a couple of times, and he missed or got fouled. I thought Fav was terrific. But what they started doing was blitzing our pick and roll, so it was difficult to throw him the ball. It's very difficult to post a player late in the game. It's hard to throw the ball in the last 2 or 3 possessions of the game, you're usually playing pick and roll. That's the way we played against Indiana, and Fav made a bunch of big buckets down the stretch. Having one guy have a good game, the other team tries to take him away, and then other guys have to make plays too."
For those who don't know, "blitzing" the pick and roll is when the team on defense sends two players to temporarily double team the ball-handler, making it difficult to make plays. Recently, it's a strategy that's seen less usage in the NBA, as teams figure out that if you can just pass out of it, then the offensive team has a temporary 4-on-3 situation.
Here's the thing: the Pelicans didn't really blitz the pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter. I've now watched every offensive possession the Jazz had in the fourth, and the Pelicans' bigs mostly dropped off, not blitzed the ball-handler. But the Jazz's guards couldn't really even playmake out of that: they don't have the speed and ballhandling to attack and make plays when they're tired. Ideally, they'd put Favors in the pick and roll, and the ball-handler would be able to force Favors' defender to make a play. That typically didn't happen.
Ultimately, the guards need to be better, in both getting better shots for themselves and finding the team's best offensive weapon in Derrick Favors. The game's main point guards, Trey Burke and Alec Burks, combined for 6-23 shooting and 7 assists in 61 combined minutes. They need more from that spot.
3. The perimeter defense needs to be better, too
The Jazz allowed the Pelicans to score 119.1 points per 100 possessions tonight, which is very bad and continues an ugly trend of defense for Utah recently. The question: who or what is to blame?
Don't look inside at the Jazz's two big men starters. I felt Favors played impressive defense on superstar Anthony Davis, limiting him to just 17 points on the night on 7-15 shooting. And looking at the Jazz's rim protection stats, both Favors and Jeff Withey were fantastic when they defended the rim: Favors allowed the Pelicans to make only 3 of 9 shots when he was nearby, and Withey allowed even fewer. Just one of the Pellies' eight shots when Withey was defending the rim went in.
But the Jazz's defense on the exterior wasn't good enough, allowing New Orleans to shoot 47.6% from three. Several times, perimeter defenders made the wrong decision, or didn't make the play that fit the Jazz's system. As a result, the team hesitated and got lost on the defensive end. Utah also fouled way too much, sending the Pelicans to the line 28 times.
I asked Hayward where the Jazz are now in relation to where they can be on defense.
"We're not even close. Just too many breakdowns. We're jumping on shot fakes, letting guys go middle, not really executing our system. We have to find a way to do that."
Until they figure it out, without defensive savior Rudy Gobert, the Jazz's record will keep falling like the Utah snow.